Will the diplomatic fiasco of the on-again, off-again Yasir Arafat visit to the U.S. Holocaust Museum be the last straw for Dr. Walter Reich’s tenure as director?
Some senior staffers of the museum who have had longstanding complaints about Reich’s management style appeared to be taking advantage of his current vulnerability this week to push for his ouster.
But Menachem Rosensaft, a member of the executive committee, said there was “a consensus there would be no scapegoating” of any individuals in the wake of the episode, in which Reich reportedly made the decision to withdraw an invitation for Arafat to tour the museum while in Washington. That decision was widely criticized, and reversed, though ultimately Arafat did not visit the museum.
Reich’s tenure, up for renewal in June, appears shaky at this point.
Miles Lerman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Council, which oversees the federally sponsored museum, said Tuesday, “Things are back to normal. … I have instructed everyone, lay leaders and staff alike, to turn the page and go back to work. We have a museum to run.”
But asked if this meant Reich’s position was secure, Lerman replied, “I’m not answering any questions. I have no comment.”
Rosensaft said that, in light of the recent Arafat controversy, “this is the worst possible time” for such a decision.
Some staffers say the Arafat episode was only the most recent, and most public, example of Reich isolating himself and being out of touch with personnel. Lay and professional leaders of the museum had complained that the Arafat decision was made without them. Reich is also being criticized for failing to provide sufficient overall vision or direction for the museum, which is ironic in view of the museum success in attracting and having a powerful effect on visitors.
Reich held a meeting for staff on Monday, and got an earful of complaints. According to one participant, who would speak only if not named, “The staff was in a complete uproar.”
Some say Reich, who declined a request for an interview, did not realize that the invitation for Arafat to visit the museum had already been extended when he advised against it. He reportedly plans to respond to internal critics by employing a more active, hands-on management, and has scheduled meetings with various staff members in an attempt to address their concerns.